Thursday, 2 July 2009

Radio Days

Hello again, more radio stuff I'm afraid, but we're coming to the end of it for a bit.

First of all I recorded my third week of Radio 7 Comedy Club links in London on Monday. Probably not quite as silly as some of my earlier ones but we still had some fun and I hope I've managed to continue the tradition of interacting awkwardly with the programmes with surprise starts and ends just like the creators intended Radio 4 announcers to do first time 'round.
We had one tiny edit made to a show this week. Interesting really- it was one of the lazy, unkind and not hugely controversial remarks it was alright to make about Michael Jackson when alive. Just a throwaway line, but it suddenly sounded slightly poor taste now he's dead.
Had you heard about that? It may not have made the news near you.

My personal preference would have been to try and contextualise the gag as exactly what everyone said when he was alive, but the danger with that is it requires your audience to be uniformly adult and sensible, which isn't something you can ever assume of audiences really. I'm sure the line will be reinstated by the time of the next repeat, anyway.

Tuesday saw me in Manchester for the first of two recording days on my Radio 4 Afternoon Play, and not telling anyone it was my birthday because that would just have made it even weirder.
Now, if I told you one of my cast had played Michael Murray in Bleasdale's GBH you'd be impressed wouldn't you?
You'd think, 'That's Robert Lindsay, Ian's got a fabulous actor there!'
You'd be only half right though, he was a fabulous actor but this was the chap who played Michael Murray as a child in GBH, he was a child himself at the time so it was slightly easier for him.
All my actors were fabulous actually, and I always think it's interesting seeing the different approaches different actors take, layering aspects of themselves and a variety of performance styles on a script.

None were one of the 'star names' that'd been talked about at times as I was writing the play, though truth be told that was quite a relief because I think real star presence like that could have unbalanced what's quite a small scale piece. One of the names mentioned did really help me develop the voice of the lead, so I'm glad the names were mentioned, not that you'll ever hear them here!

My lead was played by Russell Dixon, one of those actors you've seen in all sorts of supporting roles in TV drama, and who I've heard in an awful lot of radio over the years. I nearly worked with him once before, when he was the director's first thought to play an elderly fork in my ten minute radio monologue Made In Sheffield, but, as is so often the way, he was unavailable and it was great to finally work with him. He got all the comedy and emotion and energy I hoped for in the role and brought a tear to a few eyes in the control room turning in a beautifully judged performance I truthfully can't imagine bettered.
Stephen Hoyle had the second biggest role (it was he who was Michael Murray in an earlier life) and really did wonders vocally, giving so much to sell his role and bringing a real intelligence and sensitivity to it. He was playing younger than his age, though not as young as Michael Murray, and I bought it totally, he was far better than my words!
Reece Noi probably had the trickiest role, basically the third lead, playing a quite unsympathetic part without masses to latch on to, but I think he gave a really interestingly nuanced take on it, which I think adds something to the shifting power relationships in the play and I'm looking forward to hearing it in the finished version a lot.
Sue Ryding did wonders with quite a small role really, bringing a humanity to it to the point where I felt we needed to change her final credit. She was so nearly just 'The Dog Lady' but by the end I felt we needed to use her character's name because she'd made the role much more than the plot function that suggests.
Greg Wood, I wrote so little for that we only had him one day which I'm sad about because I loved what he brought to his couple of scenes, not least the way he used his voice to suggest quite a different physicality. He seemed to swell out from being a lean young feller into a kind of burly middle-aged Eddie Yeats type when he went behind the mike, which was spot on for the part.
We only had Balvinder Sopal for one recording day too, though she was also there for our first read through on Tuesday). Balvinder is one of the stars of the BBC Asian Network soap Silver Street, and I worked with her very briefly a few years ago when I had her bursting balloons and throwing gravel around in a short play that was more about stage effects than acting that we did at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds and Bradford's Theatre in the Mill.
She plays a shopkeeper whose name sadly vanished in edits of the play, she still says it once actually, but it's blink and you miss it. When it was first suggested I make my shopkeeper Asian, I'd been nervous about writing the cliché and keen to avoid terrible faux pas in what's a very small role, so I was really happy to have Bal there reassuring me that I'd done okay with the tiny little bit of Punglish I sneaked in for her, and giving this cameo part such life.
In the play's two smallest roles was Matt McGuirk doubling up, hilariously as one virtually monosyllabic character and really scarily in a second, far more voluble, one. He was another really superb actor and possesses a real vocal flexibility and a brilliant sense for rhythm and pace.

So, in short, I was pleased!

Listening at home you probably won't be aware of the work of Eloise Whitmore (though you'll hear her), Paul Cargill, Carrie Rooney or Gary Brown who made the recording go so smoothly, but they were all hugely impressive, fiendishly efficient but really good fun to be around. I'd been lucky enough to have Paul there for No Tomatoes which we recorded in the same studio, but it was my first time watching the others at work. I may talk about some of what they did at a later date but right now I think it runs the risk of spoiling a few moments in the play. Ideally, I reckon you should always experience the trick at least once before you know how it's done!

Anyway, the play is called Anti-Macassars and Ylang-Ylang Conditioner, honestly there's a reason, and it goes out on, I think, Monday the 27th of July at 2.15pm in Radio 4's coveted 'Torchwood on the wireless in the afternoons' slot.
It's not a perfect play, the writing's not all that I'd want, I found it tough to do, but I was very pleasantly surprised by how very much better it was made by the team who worked on it with me. There are all sorts of laughs and moments of tension and sadness that had so much more power than I expected, and I'm very proud to have been involved in the production. It was a great birthday treat.

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